The modern necktie is a seemingly simple garment but it has a complex history. The necktie has emerged separately in different countries at different times, with each emergence not necessarily having any direct relation to one another. In living things, this type of convergent evolution is usually seen where different animals develop the same form to serve the same function. For example, both dolphins and sharks have fins to help the swim but they are not directly related; they each have evolved the fin separately.
It is the same for ties; neckties appear twice in early history but the modern necktie we know comes only from a later instance of material being worn around the neck. What is interesting about the evolution of ties is that the three separate occasions we know of in which they appeared, they were used for denoting members of the military. In this way, ties evolved on multiple separate occasions all to serve the same function.
The earliest known neckties
The earliest concept of a necktie – where material was worn around the neck – dates back to 210 BC, where neckties are seen on statues of Qin Shih Huang’s army. Neckties haven’t been found in any other history or culture from China at that time so it is thought that the neckties were a way of distinguishing the wearer as a member of Qin Shih Huang’s army.
In 113 AD, Emperor Trajan’s column was erected in Rome. The soldiers depicted on the column were all shown to be wearing neckties. As in China, neckties did not seem commonplace in Rome and no other notable instances have been found, so it’s likely that ties were used here simply to demonstrate military status.
The initial early neckties did not catch on; they were never adopted by the general population and as such, faded into history. Neckties don’t reoccur again in history until hundreds of years later. This could either be because they simply weren’t worn or because we haven’t yet uncovered evidence for them.
The beginnings of the modern necktie
The modern necktie we know today came from neckties that emerged in the 1600s. Croatian soldiers in France wore ties around their necks which King Louis XIII admired. At this time, neckties became known by the name ‘la cravate’ – something which is reflected in modern French language today: the word ‘cravat’ meaning ‘tie’. King Louis XIV took to wearing a necktie from a young age and due to their popularity with royalty, neckties became a common item of clothing in France and remained so throughout the 1700s and 1800s.
Between 1800 and 1900, military organisations started to include neckties as a part of their uniform to show to which regiments they belonged. Using neckties for this purpose reflects the use of neckties in military wear that was seen in 210 BC, 113 AD and the 1600s. Despite the reflection, the modern necktie has only directly descended from the ties seen in the 1600s in France.
The neckties – or cravats – that were worn before the 1900s did not look like the modern necktie. The form of tie that is closer to the present day necktie wasn’t created until the 1920s, when Jesse Langsdorf tried a new way of cutting fabric to craft a tie. This new fabric cut allowed ties to retain their shape better and this improvement of the necktie allowed several new knots for ties to be invented.
The most recent history of the necktie
In the early 1900s, neckties were an item of clothing that commonly worn as part of business dress. Between the 1950s and 1990, neckties underwent the fashion revolutions of each decade, along with many other items of clothing. Various colours, patterns, sizes and materials emerged in these decades; some have remained in fashion and some haven’t. For example, ties made of rayon (a man-made material) did not become popular whereas silk and polyester are still common today. Skinny ties also started off as a single trend but have come back into fashion just at the moment; time will tell if this is a long lasting style or whether it’s a short term trend.
From the 1970s onwards, women were inspired by popular culture of the time and adopted neckties as a fashion accessory for casual outfits. Their popularity in casual womenswear has declined since but they are still seen quite often in modern day fashion and casual outfits. Neckties are now also included in women’s formal and business outfits.
Neckties are a popular part of workplace uniform, especially in the hospitality industry where adding a necktie to a uniform crates a professional, smart look. The inclusion of a tie in uniform as part of an eye-catching uniform can also help a company build and maintain a strong brand identity.
In contrast, neckties are now less popular for those working in offices. Smart casual and casual dress codes have replaced the business dress code of the early to mid 1900s in many offices. This is because they way in which we work and the work itself is constantly changing with new technological inventions.
As neckties reduce in popularity as an every-day business dress item, they are able to make more of an impact when worn in other settings. To a formal outfit, they add a sense of occasion and to a casual outfit, they add a sense of style.
In the grand scheme of things, neckties are still a relatively new item of clothing because they have only become widespread in the last few decades. As fashion and technology continue to evolve, so will the necktie.